Kayarath’s Adventures In Perfection

Posted on Oct 10 2013

Kayarath's Adventures In Perfection

Let me tell you something about Sukiyabashi Jiro, a sushi restaurant in Japan. The cost of eating there is 30,000 Yen (that’s about $300). Do you know what you can buy with 30,000 Yen? That’s enough for a complete set of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga! You can get a deluxe Blue Ray anime series for that kind of dough! It’s enough to fund an entire convention trip, hotel and all! Yet demand for this outrageously expensive sushi is so great, you’ll have to get reservations a month in advance for the privilege of spending so much money on a single meal. How is such an establishment made? What type of man could forge such a thing? The answers to those questions are answered by film.

“Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is a documentary that follows the life and philosophy of Jiro Ono, the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro. By many accounts, he is considered the greatest sushi chef (or skokunin) in the world. His is the first sushi restaurant ever to earn three stars from the Michelin Guide. As a reference, only thirty other restaurants in all of Japan have also earned three stars. This man has a level of skill that only over-powered manga characters could possess. Jiro Ono is the Goku of sushi chefs.

The movie presents Jiro in the same way Jiro presents sushi. At first glance, it appears remarkably simple. The camera simply follows him and his business around as they conduct their daily activities. There are also interviews with him, his sons, and many business associates. That’s it really. The producers do almost nothing to throw in extra drama. It’s not like Survivor where they set up a conflict and make people fight it out. It’s just a guy and his sushi restaurant.

He's just one man!

He’s just one man!

Like in sushi, picking good ingredients is key and Jiro is quite a catch. Left to fend for himself at the age of seven, he eventually worked his way to the top of the sushi world. Despite a work ethic that would put Rock Lee to shame, he somehow manged to get married and father two sons along the way. After they graduated high school, he put them both to work in his restaurant making sushi along with him.

After a time, he kicks the younger son out of his restaurant, tells him to go make his own place, and says that he can’t come back if he fails. While appearing harsh, it’s quite reasonable if you consider the whole situation. For one, two sons inheriting a restaurant is just plain weird. Second, Jiro feels that letting kids come back if they fail is dumb because then they won’t push themselves to succeed. Third, Jiro does not do this until he feels the younger son is capable of surviving on his own. That’s just one example of the distinctive way Jiro does things.

Sushi is also about unearthing the flavor from the food. While the film followed Jiro around for about a month, it took eleven to edit it. It can take a lot of time and effort to refine something. You have to be very careful to properly influence the feel of a movie. On that level, I believe they do properly set the mood. They simply open a new world to you and let you witness it. Using only carefully selected quotes, you’ll come to understand how Jiro both longs to continue working but prepare for his inevitable death by training his sons to succeed him. By showing the inner workings and interactions of the fish market, you’ll understand it as a place with unique people who share legends of those of gone before.

These are masters at work, people

These are masters at work, people!

The only real editing magic comes in during the sushi preparation. The sushi scenes are topped with classical arrangements, particularly those of Philip Glass. The music adds a feeling of gravitas to the whole affair, which is the perfect goal for such scenes. I believe it creates a type of Fantasia effect. The second noticeable thing is when Jiro places a piece of sushi on a plate. A few times during the film, they transposed Jiro placing different sushi on a plate repeatedly. That emphasizes how repetitive making sushi actually is and how Jiro always maintains such a high standard in creation.

While the movie does explore the life of Jiro, gives you an inside look of how sushi restaurants are run, and displays usual but strong father/son relationships, it’s all just a part of what the movie is about. To me, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a meditation on the art of perfection. What does it take to reach that level of mastery? Of course talent does play a role. To skokunin, talent is sensitivity of taste and smell. To that end, Jiro imagines what heights he could achieve with a more sensitive palate.

Even though he is a master in all respects, he’s still on an endless quest to improve. Even to this very day, he still strives to enhance his technique. He’ll examine every tiny detail in search of things to refine. He even holds meeting to discuss where to seat people! In face, the movie is called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” because he literally does that. He’ll talk about how sushi comes to him in his dreams. It consumes him that completely.

I sort of have to put in pictures of sushi...

I sort of have to put in pictures of sushi…

Nowhere is this philosophy more apparent then in the making of egg sushi. One apprentice, on his tenth year, is finally given the task of making the egg sushi. After over two hundred failed attempts over the course of three months, he finally makes one that meets Jiro’s expectations. The man almost cried when that happened. That is what it takes to succeed.

If you want to understand what it takes to achieve greatness, see this movie. If you want an insider’s look into the world of the skokunin, see this movie. If you want extras like deleted scenes and commentary, buy the DVD. It includes an interview with the rice master. His rice is so special, a five star hotel once sought it out. The master turned down the hotel because only Jiro’s unique cooking method would truly bring out it’s essence. To many people sushi is all about the fish, but Jiro took the time and effort to bring even the rice to the next level. Like I said, that man is obsessed. He has also shown me the path to greatness. I hope someday to be able to walk it…

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